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Out Of Africa, Into Asia

February 9, 2013

In my last post, I mentioned the artful details on N’Gor Island, 700 meters off the coast of Dakar in Senegal. Walking around the island, you see many artists and their paintings, sculptures, glassworks, batiks, and other manifestations of creativity. There’s one path along the island that’s adorned 24 hours a day with the manifestations of some eccentric artist’s creativity, using found junk as their medium.

sculpture 3  sculpture 2

sculpture 1 sculpture 4

We had quite a few days of very fun swell, and tried several of the breaks in Dakar. One of our favorites was Ouakam, a fast and barrelling break with a right and a left, located directly in front of a distinctive mosque.

ouakam right

ouakam mosque

ouakam left

There are resident pelicans that hang around the fishermen beside the mosque. Locals don’t seem to even notice them. This guy was too intent on his text messaging to pay attention to the big bird.


One of Dakar’s big tourist draws is Gorée Island, which is famous for being a slave trade throughpoint during the 18th century. It was a very small slave trade center compared to some other West African towns (for example, St. Louis, further north in Senegal), but Gorée has become symbolic of Senegal’s remembrance of the past atrocities committed during the days of slave trade.

The House of Slaves was where the few hundred slaves that were channelled through Gorée during those times were kept before being shipped across the Atlantic. There is a door leading out to the sea, known as the Door Of No Return, which is said to be where the slaves were led when it was time for them to be loaded on ships. Whether all the history is factually correct or not, the House of Slaves is a moving and eery place.

no return

The Door Of No Return

When we visited Gorée, there were large works commissioned from artists interpreting the theme of “memories” of the slave trade past:


The paths of Gorée are free of motor vehicles, but full of old colonial houses and bougainvillea:

goree street 2 goree road

goree alley   bougainvillae


Creativity in Senegal extends to music as well as painting, sculpture and crafts. The music scene is very lively and wonderful to watch and listen to. From buskers to live music clubs, we enjoyed Senegalese music wherever we went. Here’s a busker with a beautiful smile, playing the kora:


One of the great joys of living on N’Gor Island for us was walking out our front door onto the beach, and ordering a huge platter of brochette de lotte (grilled monkfish skewers) accompanied by rice, salad, french fries and baguette, all for $4.00 (including home delivery!).

brochette de lotte

We were very fortunate to be staying in a house two doors down from an amazing group of people who were about to take off on a non-stop transatlantic (Dakar to Miami) rowing expedition: OAR Northwest. We became good friends with (below, from L to R) the rowers, Pat Fleming, Jordan Hanssen, Adam Kreek, and Markus Pukonen, as well as their photographer Erinn Hale, and their videographer (unfortunately not in the picture below), Christopher Yapp.


We got to hang out with them a lot during their preparatory month on N’Gor, and also had the chance to visit their rowboat once it arrived in Dakar. They set off from Dakar on January 23rd and you can check out where they are right now, as well as find out more about their incredible undertaking, on the OAR Northwest website here.



Michael hanging out in the incredibly close quarters where two men will sleep while the other two are rowing during each 2-to-4-hour shift.

rower men

The OAR Northwest rowers and their vessel.

One of my best interactions with the Senegalese locals was this day at a good surfing beach when a bunch of kids all wanted to participate in a photo shoot and kept asking me to take pictures and then show them the results. They were naturals!

kids 1 kids 4

kid 3

kids 2

kid 2kid 1

After Senegal, it was off to Sri Lanka for us. We landed in Colombo and spent one day exploring the city a little. Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist, and there are many temples in Colombo that are open to visitors.



treasury of truth


The sacred elephant getting a wash at Gangaramaya Temple.

bride and groom

We were lucky to stumble upon this groom and bride in beautiful traditional costume at one of the temples we visited.

We’re staying in a small town called Midigama that has several fun breaks to surf. The first few days, we noticed turtles surfacing in the ocean each time we were out surfing. There’s an informal turtle hatchery right on the beach where we surf, and we were fortunate enough to be there at the time when the caretaker released hatchlings. We got to help release some turtle babies. So adorable!

turtle turtle run

surf 1surf 5surf 4surf 3surf 2

We surf from 6:30 to 8:30 each morning and then eat a huge breakfast. For $3, you can get a meal of scrambled eggs with onions and peppers, toast, tomatoes and avocado, and a giant chocolate coffee millkshake.



Some of the interesting things we’ve seen during our walks around Midigama:



Buddhist monks


Stilt fishermen


Spectacular sunsets

lanka sunset


We recently had a cool reminder of our time in Chile, back in May. We’d been interviewed by a film crew while we were surfing and camping in Portofino. The crew were filming an episode of Chile Conectado, a weekly tv show about different areas of Chile, and they were focusing on a character called Chico Cristian who’s the only full-time resident of the summer surf town of Portofino. We just found the link; check it out! We are at the 3:30 mark in the video:


How much does it cost to surf round the world? – Month 16

January 31, 2013

I haven’t posted anything about our budget in many months. I was still conscientiously keeping track of our daily expenses in a notebook, but had fallen behind in entering them into Budget Your Trip. I also didn’t want to post our average daily budget until after we sold Berenjenita, so that we could figure out how much the money got from the sale offset our original car-buying-and-building-out costs.

So…drum roll…here it is!

spent month 16

pie chart

There was something wonky with the pie chart function on Budget Your Trip, so the chart doesn’t show all the pie pieces, but you can still see the percentage of budget each category takes.
“Conference fees” are all the costs related to travelling in the van: gas, repairs, supplies, tolls, etc.

We’re quite a bit over our budget of $60 a day for both of us, not including plane tickets. Why so much?

  • Food is by far our biggest expense. We just can’t help sampling the good stuff! For example, although Portugal was very cheap for us, we realized after the fact that all the cheap goodies in the markets, such as cheeses, wines, and endless varieties of chocolates, had tempted us to eat without checking if we were staying on budget. Not to mention the restaurant trips. We were like kids let loose in a candy store. We never would have been able to make wood-fired pizza or grilled seafood as tasty at home as at those restaurants, so we’re not feeling guilty :). However, there is a lesson in this: if a country is cheap for travellers and has lots of tempting things to offer at lower costs than you’re used to, it’s still easy to go overboard and think all the little splurges won’t add up to much; track your expenses even more closely than usual every day in those places!
  • Despite recouping a lot of our van build-out costs in the sale to a fellow traveller in Peru, we went over our budget in Peru and Chile due to gas costs, as well as the major repairs. We wanted to take advantage of having wheels, and Chile and Peru are both such vast countries in terms of length, so we never ended up staying very long in one place over the seven months we were there. The longest times we spent in one place were a few weeks in Lima, when we were buying and building out the van; two weeks in Pichilemu, Chile; and two weeks in Chicama, Peru. We don’t regret buying the van and driving around so much, either. We had some of our most memorable experiences during that chapter of our trip. It still surprises us when we remind ourselves that buying a van was a spur-of-the-moment change of plans for us. We can’t imagine what our travels through Peru and Chile would have been like without Berenjenita. Lesson here: during the planning stages, leave some room in your budget for spontaneous changes to your trip. You won’t regret the extra money spent in exchange for the freedom and flexibility.
  • Biggest lesson learned: noting daily expenses is important, but what’s most important is regularly looking at the expenses as a whole to see if you’re on track, and adjusting course if necessary.

We were a little worried when we saw that we were over our budget $16.59 per day. However, due to our lengthy overland stay in South America, we’re way under our airfare budget, so we may still break even in the end. All of our costs in Sri Lanka are very low (it’s the cheapest country we’ve been to so far) but we’re only here for another couple of weeks. We’re hoping to be able to stay below budget for three months in Indonesia as well, but still have yet to see how much moving around we’ll do there. Then it will be on to New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii – all very expensive places!

Island Time In Africa

January 9, 2013

We left Morocco for our next destination, Senegal, but not before being invited to our landlord Mhand’s home for lamb couscous.

mohamed tea

Mhand’s daughter Nadia graciously prepared a large couscous meal for me, Michael, Mhand, and two other guests at the house where we’d rented an apartment.

nadia cooking

nadias tagine

After the meal, Nadia made amlou for us to take home: a kind of peanut butter made of peanuts ground up with argan oil and honey. She used a stone grinder that has been in Mhand’s family for 200 years.

nadia amlou

We had waves almost every single day we were in the little fishing village in Morocco, but we were still looking forward to getting to Senegal, where the weather and water is a little warmer this time of year.

point 6point 5 point 4point 3 point 2point 1

sandbars working well

We splurged a little and stayed at the best surf camp in Senegal for the first two weeks we were here: N’gor Island Surf Camp.

ngor island surf camp

surf camp

It’s on tiny N’gor Island, which is only 800 meters long, and has no cars. There are two surf breaks on the island; one on each side. The right works more often than the left, and can hold large swells. The right is also the wave that was featured in the classic surf movie The Endless Summer, and there’s a hand-painted sign above the wave proudly announcing this fact:

endless summer sign

endless summer

ngor rights

delphine ngor right

Me on N’gor Right

There are many other excellent waves within a 30-minute walk of the mainland beach that faces N’gor Island. To get across, we have to take one of the pirogues, which cross the 700-meter channel every 10 or 15 minutes:


While staying at the surf camp, the entire camp took a little trip to a secluded surf spot called Spot X and surfed some fun, long and clean head high peelers:

loaded up

senegal wave

goats and surfboards

hanging out


These kids made a fully functional foosball table out of a cardboard box and twigs!

The beaches on N’gor Island are small but pretty, with little restaurants and places renting mats for sunbathing and makeshift cabanas for privacy:

beach tents

second beach

The island’s sandy footpaths are lined with palms and wind past cute houses:

path 2


The island is full of artful details and colorful characters:



elephant door carving

general store

keur bibou



tea fire

There are many skilful spear fishermen who ply their trade every day in the waters around the island and then sell the fish fresh off their spears:

spear fishing

spear fisherman

trumpet fish

These crazy creatures are called trumpet fish

We’ve rented a cute little bungalow where we spend any non-surf time sitting on our veranda, reading and writing or hanging out with friends.


We’ve ventured into downtown Dakar several times, once to visit the markets selling produce, fish, clothing, handicrafts and fabulously colored fabrics. The local women wear matching headwraps and dresses in gorgeous African prints. We weren’t buying, but were happy to feast our eyes on the lovely colors while one of our friends shopped for fabric.

fabric salesman


We’ve gotten to spend a couple of afternoons hanging out with two surfing friends from New York, Elie and Nate, who moved to N’gor Island one year ago. They work in consulting for development projects in several African countries, and are also social entrepreneurs. One of Elie’s many projects is Mama Liberia, a women’s co-op based in Liberia that produces beautiful, handcrafted bags and duvet covers from amazingly printed African fabrics. They can be shipped anywhere in the world, and the hand stitching is super durable. This is my Mama Liberia bag, which has quickly become my favorite carry-all:

mama liberia


December 24, 2012

Small-town Moroccan Life

November 21, 2012

We spent five days in Marrakech exploring and waiting for our surfboards to arrive, as they didn’t fit into the hold of our turbo-prop plane coming from Lisbon. The airline sent the boards on the following flight with a big enough airplane, which was a few days after we arrived in Marrakech.

We stayed in the Medina, which is the area enclosed by 19 kilometers of 6-meter high and 1-meter thick mud rampart walls. Most of the streets within the Medina are narrow and maze-like, creating a rabbit warren where it’s impossible not to get lost.

Luckily, as long as you can see the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, the tallest minaret in the city, you can always orient yourself.

Motorcycles and scooters zip by an inch or two beside pedestrians, and you have to always be on the alert so as not to get sideswiped by the vehicles.
The Djemaa El Fna is the heart of the Medina. It’s a wide-open square where vendors, street performers, snake charmers and food sellers set up, and tourists and locals alike mill about day and night.

The architectural and decorative details inside and out of most buildings are intricate and beautiful. The wood and plaster carvings, tilework and metalwork are gorgeous.

My two favorite places that we visited were the Musée de la Photographie, which holds a collection of vintage black-and-white photographs of Morocco from 1870 to the 1950s:

The Musée de la Photographie also serves up a mean chicken tagine at their rooftop café:

and the Jardin Majorelle, a garden that belonged to Yves Saint-Laurent and was gifted to the city of Marrakech upon his death. It’s a peaceful and soothing respite from the heat and traffic of Marrakech.

YSL’s ashes were scattered in the garden, and his memorial is tucked away in a shady corner.

When our surfboards arrived, we took the bus to a small town on the coast near Agadir. The most famous surf town in Morocco is Taghazout, which fellow travelers had warned us had become so overrun that it should be called Tagha-zoo; aggressive touts, crowded waves, and pricier-than-average food and accommodation. We heard about a small fishing village with a few good-quality breaks, close to but much less crowded than Taghazout, and we headed there.
The village is super small, with no wired internet and only one local payphone. There are no ATMs or supermarkets, and only a handful of cafés and small restaurants. The entire town can be walked across in ten minutes.

The first few days we were here, the waves were mediocre: disorganized swell caused by a storm front. We were  worried that we’d made the wrong choice of towns. But then the weather cleared up, the sun came out, and the waves turned on.

There are two point breaks and a reef, and the waves are fun and uncrowded.

We rented a nice apartment and will just be hanging out, surfing and enjoying the Moroccan food and village life for the next month.

Parting Shots From The Rip Curl Pro Peniche

October 23, 2012

A few days before we boarded our plane to Marrakech (more soon on the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of Morocco!), we drove an hour north to Peniche, Portugal, to watch some heats from the Rip Curl Pro contest going on at Supertubes. We caught rounds 3 and 4, and Supertubes was spitting out huge, intimidating barrels — many of them closeouts.

Kelly Slater was eliminated in Round 3. Conditions at the time were big and messy:

Owen Wilson Wright scoring a beautiful left barrel:

The next sequence is Gabriel Medina Adriano de Souza who went on to the finals but in the end lost to Julian Wilson. Gabriel Medina surfed incredibly well the whole contest, and more than a few people in the audience were disputing the judges’ scoring of Julian Wilson’s winning wave in the finals.

Watching the contest in person highlighted the fact that the pro surfers on the World Championship Tour are from a different stratosphere of talent that’s difficult to even imagine for us. Very inspiring, and a nice cherry on top of our Portuguese surfing sundae!

Surfers’ And Eaters’ Paradise In Portugal

October 17, 2012

We originally hadn’t planned on including any European countries in our round-the-world surf tour, mainly due to their costs. We knew that the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal had great waves, but in western Europe, it’s difficult to travel on our budget of $60 per day for two people.

However, our friends Edoardo and Dany, whom we met back in Mexico at the beginning of our trip last year, live in Ericeira, Portugal – a great surf town – and they told us we could live pretty cheaply there. They also recounted how amazing conditions are during the shoulder season of September/October, when most of the tourists have left but the waves get good and the days are still warm. We decided to take the chance and visit Ericeira after South America. Neither Michael nor I had been to Portugal before, so the culture would be new to us as well.

Ericeira is just a 45-minute drive from Lisbon. When we first arrived, we stayed in our own bedroom in a local guy’s apartment that we booked in advance on Airbnb, giving us some time to find a longer term place to stay. The apartment ended up being beautiful, very spacious, and with a super cool owner named Luis, who is also a surfer. It’s situated in front of one of the better surf breaks in Ericeira, and we could walk out on the balcony every morning and check the surf conditions.

Checking the surf with Luis in front of his apartment

Daily breakfast with delicious toasted Portuguese bread, butter and jam, and fresh squeezed orange juice was included. For the four days we were at Luis’s apartment, we surfed and hung out with him and his girlfriend Mafalda, and since then we’ve become good friends with them both.

Lunch with new friends

Edoardo and Dany helped us rent a room in their friend’s house, a short drive away from where Luis lives. It’s a cute and compact 50-year-old seaside vacation home with 5 bedrooms, but since it’s low season right now, there’s no one else in the house and we have it to ourselves.

The vernacular architecture in Ericeira consists of low, whitewashed houses with Mediterranean blue trim and terracotta tiled roofs. The streets in the town center are paved with small square stones, and everywhere you look, there’s another breathtaking view full of texture and color.

We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the cost of staying in Ericeira. The room we’ve rented for the next month is so affordable that we’ve been able to rent a car, which has proven essential for getting around town and checking out all the other surf breaks.

Our house and car

And the food! THE FOOD! The ingredients and produce in the local shops, the cheap and delicious local wines, the seafood and grilled meats in the restaurants, and the pastries and bread in the cafes here are to die for. We look forward to every single meal, whether we cook it ourselves or with friends, or eat out at a new or an already familiar restaurant. Michael has happily started gaining some weight back after losing a few pounds in South America. I’m trying my best not to put any weight on, but it’s difficult not to eat everything in sight. Luckily, we’re surfing almost every day.

The waves have been consistently fun, with most days in the six to eight foot range. They are mostly rights, which make Michael (a regular-footer) happy since in Peru and Chile, the waves were all lefts. The rights are helping me work on my backside surfing.

My childhood friend Liisa came to stay with us for a little under two weeks:

Ahoy, Liisa!

We went sightseeing with Liisa in Sintra, a town known for its decadent palaces and a Moorish castle that’s visible from many miles around. We visited the Moorish castle, built in the 9th century:

as well as the Quinta da Regaleira, a 4-hectare estate full of fountains, towers, hidden caves and underground tunnels:

Michael and I also spent a day in Lisbon, where we visited Europe’s second-largest oceanarium.

There was a temporary art exhibition by Skeleton Sea in the atrium, with intricate and beautifully crafted sculptures made from garbage washed up on beaches around the world.

We took a ride on Lisbon’s famous #28 tram, which is an electric streetcar that makes the rounds through the most popular tourist neighborhoods and past many of its famous sites.

October 7th was the date that we flew out of New York City last year, so we’ve been gone for a little over one year! In many ways, the time has gone by quickly, slowly and also just right. The days have definitely started to move faster now that we’re only spending five or six weeks in each country, as opposed to the seven months of slow overland travel we previously experienced through Peru and Chile.

In several days, we’ll be leaving for our next destination: Morocco. We’ll spend a few days soaking up the culture in Marrakech before exploring what Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast has to offer in the way of surf. Tagine, hammams and squat toilets, here we come!

Goodbye Berenjenita, Hello Portugal

September 8, 2012

We caught a good-sized swell at Chicama before starting down south towards Lima to sell Berenjenita. The waves were long, fun and stacked to the horizon.

Juan and Giovana’s daughter Valeria is starting to surf. Imagine how good she’ll be if she keeps it up until she’s our age?!

After leaving Chicama, we stopped at a completely secluded point break to check it out, but since it was quite a bit further south and slightly more exposed than Chicama, the strong southwest swell meant that the waves were massive, around 15 to 18 feet! Too big for us to paddle out at an unknown spot with big rocks and not one other person out. We were sad to miss it, though, as it looked like under slightly smaller conditions, the waves would have been super fun.

We managed to sell Berenjenita on Sept. 5th!!! This is very bittersweet for us, since the timing couldn’t have worked out better (we wanted to sell her as close to the beginning of September as possible), but we also started to miss life in the Little Eggplant as soon as we realized we wouldn’t be having the same kind of travel experience once she was gone. However, we could not have found a better owner for her. Axel is a kayaker/climber/surfer from Colorado who is beginning a year-long South American road trip with Berenjenita. She’s in great hands!

Axel and his girlfriend Sarah

We’ve been spending the last few days preparing to leave this continent, running errands and eating one last time at all those places we love in Lima. Last night, we watched Peru’s latest World Cup Qualifier soccer game against Venezuela. Peru won 2-1 and is still in the running to make it to Brazil in 2014! There was a lot of cheering and yelling at our friend’s apartment. We also watched an awesome documentary called The Bus, courtesy of our fellow VW bus fan and friend Miguel. It’s a great ode to Berenjenita’s kin:

So it’s goodbye Little B, but hello Portugal, for us. Next week, we’re flying out to Lisbon and will be spending 5 or 6 weeks on the wave-rich coast of Ericeira. We’re pretty excited to experience another whole new culture, surf some awesome Portuguese point breaks, and meet up with some friends that we made back in Mexico, who live out there.

Low-key in Lobitos

August 24, 2012

We surfed half of a nice 6-foot swell in Chicama before packing up for a tiny town further north, called Lobitos. It’s known as one of the best waves in South America, which means that although the town is incredibly small with very little tourist infrastructure, there are still crowded lineups. But the waves did live up to their reputation.

There are five main breaks all within walking distance of each other, but even more farther afield if you’re willing to invest a little more time hiking. We caught an amazing 6- to 8-foot swell while we were there. The waves are super fun and challenging; they can get quite long, barrelling and then opening up into a fun, rippable wall. Our favorite breaks were La Frontera and Piscinas. From La Frontera, we could watch the crazy fast barrels that some kamikaze surfers were getting at El Hueco.

Unfortunately, we surfed so much during our time in Lobitos that we ended up being too lazy to hike around to take more pictures of the location and the waves up close. Our only photos are from the cool, broken-down mansion called La Casona (Surf Point) that’s been turned into a hostel, where we stayed. The house has been decorated in a cute and quirky way, with lots of found objects, antique items, and murals.



La Casona was also known by locals as La Casa Del General, because the town was previously a military base, and the general lived in the house that’s now the hostel. Before it was a military base, it was an oil outpost, and there are still oil rigs offshore, and working oil pumps on land.

Conditions were primitive at La Casona, with no running water (cold bucket showers only!), but we loved it there. Not having running water gave us a greater appreciation for how much water we used when we showered or had to bucket-flush the toilet.  Using a bucket, you’re conscious of exactly how much water you’re using, as opposed to having water run straight out of a tap down the drain. The mural included a sobering reminder of the importance of water to human life:

I got another reminder of the importance of clean drinking water when I contracted a bout of amoebic dysentery and had to go to the hospital 14 km away to get diagnosed and buy antibiotics. I’d been using the cistern water to brush my teeth, instead of our bottled drinking water, and I may have gotten sick that way. It’s so hard to tell; it could also have been contracted from eating out, or inadvertently swallowing water while showering. A 3-day course of anti-parasitic pills put me right again and I was back in the water in no time.

After a couple of weeks in Lobitos, we decided to head south again, to surf Chicama and a few other breaks around there, before we head back to Lima to sell Berenjenita. We’ll try to insert some more photos of the surf from now on…


How They Escaped: Juan and Giovana

July 31, 2012

We met Juan and Giovana while staying at their hotel on the cliff above the world’s longest left wave, Chicama. The name of their hotel, Sueños de Chicama (Chicama Dreams), reveals that it’s more than a business for them; it’s the culmination of years of working towards a dream. Through impromptu conversations with Juan and Giovana during our stay, we found that they held many of the same values and ideas as we do, and their story inspired us to share it with you. We’d like to start posting interviews with people that we meet during our travels, who’ve made a break from their conventional lives to find a more fulfilling, alternative way to live.

Juan, Giovana and their daughter Valeria

Name: Juan Izquierdo La Noire & Giovana Merida Astudillo

Age: 41 & 50

Profession:  Dentist/Personal Trainer & Hotel Administrator

Originally from: Lima & Callao, Peru


What led you to open your hotel and live in Chicama?

Juan: Our dream was to get away from the city, traffic, stress, our work schedules; to be able to surf, and to run a hotel in front of the sea. To have a quality of life where our work doesn’t feel like work, and there’s not so much pressure. In Lima, there’s this pressure to have more, a better car or better house, but you never relax and you feel like you always have to have something better.

As a personal trainer, I would work from 7 a.m. until the evening. Part of my dream was to be able to train clients while looking at the waves, instead of being inside a gym.

Giovana: In Lima, there’s a lot of pressure and routine, lots of traffic. This is an escape from the routine and stress; it’s peace and quiet. The energy here is priceless.

Juan: More than anything, we’re looking for tranquility, health, good quality of life. Every day here feels like vacation to me. Doing things here, like work or exercise, feels different than it does in the city. Here, in front of the sea, you don’t feel like it’s work.

Giovana: Meeting a lot of travelers and talking with them, sharing all of this tranquility, sharing conversation with them, also makes us happy.

Juan: All the travelers we’ve met who’ve stayed with us have been cool, with “buena onda” [good vibes].


Describe the process of getting the first idea of your dream, to thinking it could be reality, to working toward the concrete goal.

Juan: It began when we started travelling together. I was working at a gym long hours every day, seven days a week, and we didn’t have a lot of time to travel. When we’d gotten married, we only had one day off together. We finally started taking vacations; first a two-week trip to Mancora and then a trip to Chicama. When we were in Chicama, we stayed at one of the hotels here, and we said to ourselves that it would be our dream to have a business like that ourselves, where I could surf and work, and we could create an income. Slowly, the dream started to take shape.

We asked around about buying land here in Chicama.  A guy offered us this piece of land that we’re on, but at that time, the whole area between our place and the hostel El Hombre [a distance of 500 meters that’s now full of hostels and hotels] was empty. There was nothing there! So we were taking a big risk, buying this piece of land so far from the last hotel on the strip. I had just bought a car two weeks prior with some money I’d saved up, and we didn’t have the money to pay for the land right away. We asked the seller if we could pay in installments, and he agreed. It was destiny, because we wouldn’t have been able to buy the land otherwise.

It was four months between getting the idea to live in Chicama, and then buying the land. Before we started travelling, we’d never had this dream. Our mindset was only: work, work, work. When we took the trip to Mancora in 2005, we got there on a Tuesday and we noticed that every day seemed like a Saturday there, like everyone was on vacation: lots of tourists, beer, and parties. We were killing ourselves working, and what we saw in Mancora made us think, “that’s not a life!” Before we visited Mancora, we didn’t realize there was another way to live.

We worked toward our dream little by little; we didn’t accomplish it in one fell swoop. The many details weren’t solved all at once. We took a big risk. We were never sure if it would turn out well or badly.

It took two years to save up the money to buy the land, and then four more years to build the hotel, so six years in total. We still have to build out some rooms in the back, but we’re very happy here.


What did you have to sacrifice to pursue your dream?

Juan: We had to leave everything in Lima: our house, our careers, our daughters. It wasn’t easy because we have two daughters, 21 and 12 years old, who are still studying in Lima.  It’s their dream to finish studying in the city and pursue careers; everyone has different dreams to follow. It’s not easy to pursue a dream; you have to make some sacrifices. It’s difficult to be far from our daughters, but we go back for a week at a time and then return to Chicama.

Originally, our dream was to move here all together and for our 12-year-old daughter to study in a school nearby. However, she’s very smart and the schools in this area aren’t up to the same level as in Lima. School is more challenging for her there.

We also sacrificed a lot in order to save a lot of money. I had to sell a pickup truck cheap in order to pay the workers to finish building the rooms on the first floor. But once we finished the first floor, I bought myself a surfboard and wetsuit!

Giovana: I think the biggest sacrifice is being away from our family, our daughters who are in Lima. The other sacrifices can be overcome, but the hardest is being away from family. When we started building the hotel, I had to start spending time away from Juan and the girls. For me, the money wasn’t the most important. When construction began, Juan was still working in Lima, and I was supervising construction here in Chicama. I was here for one or two months to oversee the building, and I was away from the family for that time. That was the first real sacrifice for me, and I’ll never forget it. After construction was finished on the first floor, I came to Chicama every two weeks for a week or two by myself to check on the running of the hotel, while Juan was working in Lima and our daughters were there.


Was it difficult to keep the end goal in mind during the six years you were building the hotel?

Juan: Yes, it was really hard. We had to save a lot of money, so when we were working in Lima, we were constantly reminding ourselves that everything was for Chicama, everything was for our dream. I would say, “This year, I’m moving to Chicama,” and that year I wouldn’t be able to go because I had to continue working to finish building our house in Lima. We sold our car to finish building some of the hotel rooms, and then we sold an apartment in order to finish part of the hotel. We kept thinking we needed to wait and save more money to finish the hotel before moving here to Chicama, and finally I said, “No more.” It had been four years of working toward my dream of living in Chicama full time, surfing and running the hotel. We gave ourselves a deadline of April 20th to move here, and we did it. However, five years had gone by before we gave ourselves the deadline and made the move.  Before we knew it, two, three, four, five years had passed and we still hadn’t realized our dream. There were always more important things that we needed to spend money on, such as finishing our house in Lima. I discovered that there will always be things that you can end up thinking take priority over your dreams, so if you want to realize your dreams, you have to just go for it. Some people let their whole lives go by this way, without ever realizing their dream.

I wanted to realize the dream while I was still young and could surf as much as I wanted to. I’m 41 years old, and thankfully I’m able to surf once or twice a day. It wasn’t my dream to wait until our house in Lima was completely finished, and come here when I was much older, or sick from stress, and not be able to surf.


How did you stay motivated?

Juan: We constantly kept in mind how all the work we were doing was for Chicama. When I was working at the gym, I’d be thinking about Chicama: “When we’re there, we’ll build this. We’ll buy that for the hotel. I’ll put some money aside for this.”


Were there moments during the time you were building the hotel when you felt afraid that something would go wrong, or you wouldn’t reach your goal?

Giovana: I wasn’t afraid, but I sometimes felt that there was a lack of balance in our lives. Juan had to work more to save up money, and I had to come to Chicama to coordinate the construction and try to save as much money during construction as possible, while still taking care of my family.

Juan: At first, I was worried that we’d be scammed while buying the land, but we checked and everything was in order. The first time we arrived on our land to start building the hotel, we were surprised to see that the hotel next door was under construction, and I came running over to our plot because I thought that they were building on our land! But they weren’t.

There were times when we thought we’d be able to finish construction to a certain point and we weren’t able to, for lack of money, so one of our worries was money.


Were there any surprises?

Juan: It was harder to save the money than we thought. It also took longer to build than we expected. The workers weren’t on time; the wind is so strong here that if we were using bricks, we could only work in the morning because the wind was so strong in the afternoon that it would topple the bricks down. Two walls from the rooms in the back fell down because of the wind while we were building them!

Giovana: Because we’re located at the end of the strip of developed land, we had to lay down 150 meters of cable to get electricity to our plot. We didn’t foresee that.

Juan: We had to lay the cables underground, in order not to put up electrical posts and spoil the ocean view. It took three days of working ourselves with helpers to do it. Water was also a problem back then. We didn’t foresee the cost of putting in a big cistern well. We had to buy the water from trucks that filled up the cistern, and it was expensive.


Looking back, would you do anything differently?

Juan: Yes, we would have liked to all be living together here now, with our daughter. Also, I would have done this sooner, moved out here earlier. I had the opportunity to move out here once we’d finished building the first floor, and if I had, we would be more established right now, maybe with other side businesses, like owning a boat [that ferries surfers out to the point break]. I would have taken the risk earlier.

I wanted to write a book titled How to Retire Before 40, about how we saved and built the hotel, about our dream and plan, but I kept putting off the move to Chicama, working and saving, before finally making the decision to move here full time, and so now I’ll have to call it How to Retire Before 41!


What advice would you give someone who has a dream but is afraid to follow it?

Juan: You have to follow your dream right now. If you wait until you have X amount of money, you won’t reach your goal. You have to make the decision and begin. A dream is first realized with one step in the right direction, with just one step.

You have to visualize and imagine the result, really feel what it’s like, how happy it makes you, and your dream will become real little by little. For example, we imagined what the hotel would look like: yellow, two floors, wood outside. You have to feel it with your whole body, and then it will materialize.

Our dream is actually made up of two parts: the first was to build the hotel, and the second, to make enough income with the hotel to be able to travel to other places where we can see the jungle, mountains or the waves. We’d love to be able to travel for a year. This is the second part of the dream that we’re waiting to accomplish. We don’t need to be millionaires, just have enough to take care of our daughters and to travel.